Cast off on a cruise on someone else's boat and you'll want to remember to pack those basic essentials that form the foundation of your personal 'sailing ditty bag'. Each sailor will have their own ideas of the best gear to bring aboard for the shorter cruise. But here are some pieces of gear I've found to come in handy time and again, day after day.
There are ten ’sailing essentials’ that should be considered before going into a cruising adventure
Think of limited space and weight when you pack to sail on someone else's boat. Limit your baggage to two soft-sided, soft-bottom duffel bags (or a duffel bag and a backpack). Use bags without wheels or rigid sides and bottom.
1. Sailing Knife and Marlinspike
Carry a knife and marlinspike on your belt at all times (not in your pocket, and not down below in your bag). You need it ready to use in an instant. A knife will cut through sailing rope or free a Genoa sheet wrapped around your leg. The marlinspike helps pry open strands of rope for splicing.
Folding knives with a 3' blade and marlinspike are fine, but require two hands to open and close. A better choice would be a straight blade, rigging knife with a 3' blade and a separate marlinspike in a sheath.
Always, always secure a knife with a lanyard to your belt. This keeps it attached to you even if it slips out of your hands. This can be critical if you have to go aloft or slip over the side with a rope wrapped around your leg (this has happened more than once to sailing crews offshore!)
2. Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and Sailing Harness
Pack your own PFD and sailing harness. Try on several inflatables and find one that's easy to adjust and comfortable. Simulate sailing motions when you put it on.
Squat down, lean over, raise your arms above your head, and pretend you are grinding on a sailing winch, reefing a mainsail or hanking on a storm jib on the foredeck. It must hug your body and give you comfort at all times; otherwise you will be reluctant to wear it!
Purchase a separate sailing safety harness. Better, find an inflatable PFD with an integrated harness. Make sure it has oversize D-rings rated to a breaking strength of at least 4,000 pounds. A separate harness should mold to your body like a glove. Again, do not rely on the sailboat you will board to provide you with a safety harness that fits your body.
Ask the sailing skipper if there are tethers already aboard. The tether attaches to your harness D-ring and then clips on to a jackline ( a long piece of line or webbing that runs from bow to stern).
3. Caps and Hats
You need protection from the sun, the cold, and rain. Double everything you pack for caps and hats. You can expect to lose at least one hat over the side on each trip. Better still, attach your hat with long shoelaces around your neck so that, when the hat flies off it is caught before going overboard. Pack two peaked caps, a good brim hat, like those made by Tilley, and two or more knit watch caps. A good brim hat provides more protection if you are sailing in the Tropics than slathering sunscreen on your face and neck.
At nighttime, even in summer, the temperature at sea will cool more than you ever thought possible. A good watch cap, like those from Under Armour are microfiber materials that 'breathe' and provide comfort without sweating (which will cause your body to cool!).
4. Foul Weather Gear
Pack a full set of foul weather jacket and bib-pants. Match the jacket and pants to the type of sailing. Use lighter gear for tropics and heavy gear for cold weather passages. Go for the 'breathable' type fabrics that protect you, but allow air to circulate next to the skin to help lower perspiration. Add sea boots to complete your foul weather gear assembly.
5. Under Garments
Pack thick, heavy socks to wear with sea boots. These protect your heels to ward off blisters. Under layers should be considered part of any foul weather gear offshore equipment. You need garments that wick the sweat from the skin to keep you dryer and prevent cooling. In warm or cold weather, go with the modern microfiber synthetics for superior comfort beneath your foulies.
6. Sailing Gloves
Sailing lines can cause blisters or 'rope burn', where the line runs out fast between your hands, peeling away the skin. You won't be any use on the boat once this happens.
Purchase full length sailing gloves--also called '3/4 length'--that cover all except the tips of your fingers. These offer the best protection when working sailing sheets, halyards, and boat anchoring rode.
7. Oversized Plastic Freezer Bags
Crazy as it sounds, zip-lock type bags are worth their weight in gold. Pack 10-20 of these. Use them to segregate clothes so you don't have to dig in a bag (i.e. one for socks, one for t-shirts etc) Use them for dirty clothes to cut down on odors.
Seal wet clothes inside until you have a chance to dry them. Fill them with valuables like your wallet and cellphone. Zip up snacks inside for late night watches or quick meals when it gets rough.
8. Personal Grab-Bag
If you need to leave the boat in an emergency, you need one bag that you can grab-and-go. Use one of your zip-lock bags for storage. Include your wallet, keys, passport, visa, cellphone, a separate notepad with a list of emergency contact names and phone numbers.
Include your insurance policy number and phone numbers, doctor names and numbers, and pharmacy contact numbers to refill medications. Carry cash, coins, and at least 10 extra days of each medication.
9. Seasick Medications
Pack some form of seasick prevention for any offshore trip. More than 66 per cent of all sailors experience some form of seasickness (mild to severe) in rough weather. You must be able to stand watches, help with sail changes or reefing, and work with the sailing crew--even when you aren't feeling your best.
Use the mildest type of seasick remedy that gives the maximum effect. Start with natural, non-medication forms of seasick prevention (ginger, emotional freedom technique (EFT), wrist-pressure bands). Next, consider over-the-counter types of medication. If necessary, use prescription medications.
Check with your doctor before taking any type of seasick medication--even the natural forms. Each individual has a different body chemistry, and you want to be on the safe side. Start your medication at least 24 hours before you set sail so that it will be in your bloodstream before you leave the pier. Keep hydrated at all times to lessen the onset of seasickness.
10. Hand and Head-band Lights
Carry your own flashlight. Buy one of the small high-intensity lights that come in a sheath. Look for those with pop-on, pop-off red filters. You need red filters to keep your night vision intact. In addition, purchase a head-band type light with the same features--high intensity white light with a toggle for red filtered light.
Use the head-band light for hands free chart navigation, engine space maintenance, and to check sail trim at night. Pack at least three changes of batteries for each type of light.
Buy a small plastic travel-type soap dish container to carry your batteries. Seal the soap dish with over-sized rubber-bands. Small aaa batteries will often fit inside an empty, cylinder-shaped plastic prescription container.
Use these ten sailing tips to pack those 'absolute essentials' for sailboat cruising. Carry the personal sailing gear that will provide you with safety and comfort--wherever in the world you choose to sail and cruise!
John Jamieson (Captain John) with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide. Visit his website at Skipper Tips Sign up for the Free, highly popular weekly 'Captain John's Sailing Tip-of-the-Week'. Discover how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles, videos, and e-Books!